Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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Prisoner Doctors: The Agony of Selections 
feel imminent. A prisoner doctor told how the SS doctor Fritz Klein kept demanding more information about sick patients in order to send larger numbers of them to the gas chamber, and so then added in his characteristically pained tones: “It's not honest in life to ask from a man such things. Maybe you have to be a holy man to say no. I’m not optimistic about my own behavior, you see. And still I am not a bad man. Really not. But life asks me, ‘You or me?’ and I say, ‘Me.’”

Apart from selections, prisoner doctors had to engage in a certain amount of triage (in their case the actual medical kind) of their own. For instance, when Jan. W., a young Polish doctor, could obtain a limited amount of invaluable typhus vaccine from his underground contacts, he did not simply dispense it on a “first come, first serve” basis. He avoided giving it to inmates whom he considered “too, weak to recover” or who were in general elderly and infirm (precisely the people one would give the vaccine to under ordinary circumstances), and instead chose “people who were young and who would be helped by the vaccine.” Moreover, Dr. W. favored his own “network of acquaintances,” meaning Polish political prisoners like himself: “A friend from school in Krakow ... is much closer to me than a Dutch Jew whom I saw for the first time in my life.”

Another doctor, a Dutch Jew, had the same inclination toward favoring his own kind. He told of giving all twenty sulfa tablets he possessed to a man with erysipelas, and of thereby curing at least one person. But, this doctor added, “[He] was a Dutchman, of course. It was easier for me and for him. We could speak to each other and we understood each other. Should he have been a Pole, I don't know.”

Aside from the question of one’s own group, there was the constant moral and medical question of whether to spread the twenty or thirty tablets of sulfanilamide or other medication among ten people, and use up one’s supply in a day without any effect; to two or three people, and perhaps give each a full day’s dose but no more after that; or to one person, whom one could treat effectively over the several days necessary. As Dr. Erich G. put it: “This [was] the dilemma for doctors ... every day.”

There were at least three kinds of situation in which prisoner doctors felt it necessary to participate in killing. First, the killing on medical blocks of capos who murdered and beat other prisoners, as described by Dr. Fejkiel (pages 186-87). Such killing saved numerous lives — but was killing nonetheless: someone, usually a resistance leader or group, had to decide that a particular capo was “dangerous,” and agree with others that he should be killed; and someone had to do the killing, usually a cooperative effort between a prisoner doctor and other inmates working on the medical block.*

Second, there were situations in which prisoner doctors felt certain patients had to be killed. Dr. Elie Cohen, in a book whose subtitle is  “A
* There were resistance networks in Auschwitz, the most prominent of which was Communist-led. (See pages 388-90).   
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
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